Alcoff’s widely-cited article titled, exactly: “The problem of speaking for others.” Alcoff’s essay is a review of the arguments that have been presented by. ; revised and reprinted in Who Can Speak? Authority and Critical Identity edited by Judith Roof and Robyn Wiegman, University of Illinois Press, ; and . The Problem of Speaking for Others. Author(s): Linda Alcoff. Source: Cultural Critique, No. 20 (Winter, ), pp. Published by: University of.

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It is the latter sources of authority that I am referring to by the term “privilege.

On the Problem of Speaking for Others

Thus, how what is said gets heard depends on who says it, and who says it will affect the style and language in which it other stated. The discursive style in which some European post-structuralists have made the claim that all writing is political marks it as important and likely to be true for a certain powerful milieu; whereas the style in which African-American writers made the same claim marked their speech as dismissable in the eyes of the same milieu.

James Clifford and George E. Rather, the rituals of speaking te our attention to the contexts in which speaking and being heard are made possible. But surely it is both morally and politically objectionable to structure one’s actions around the desire to avoid criticism, especially if this outweighs other questions of effectivity.

For example, in many situations when a woman speaks the presumption is against her; when a man speaks he is usually taken seriously unless his speech patterns mark him as socially inferior by dominant standards.

The unspoken premise here ot simply that a speaker’s location is epistemically salient. The “ritual of speaking” as defined above in which an utterance is ov always bears on meaning and truth such that there is no possibility of rendering positionality, location, or context irrelevant to content.

However, it is an illusion to think that, even in the safe space of a probkem group, a member of the group can, for example, trivialize brother-sister incest as “sex play” without profoundly harming someone else in the group who is trying to maintain her realistic assessment of her brother’s sexual activities with her as a harmful assault against his adult rationalization that “well, for me it was just harmless fun.

Intersectionality in Philosophy of Gender, Race, and Sexuality. Linda Nicholson New York, Routledge,p. It leaves for the listeners all the real work that needs to be done. The phrase “bears on” here should indicate some variable amount of influence short of determination or fixing.


The Problem of Speaking For Others

These examples demonstrate the range of current practices of speaking for others in our society. As Gayatri Spivak likes to say, the invention of the telephone by a European upper class wpeaking in no way preempts its being put to the use of an anti-imperialist revolution. In the history of Western philosophy, there have existed multiple, competing definitions and ontologies of truth: Rowman and Littlefield, In the end Spivak prefers a “speaking to,” in which the intellectual neither abnegates his or her problej role nor presumes an authenticity of the oppressed, but still allows for the possibility that the oppressed will produce a “countersentence” that can then suggest a new historical narrative.

For instance, after I vehemently defended Barbara Christian’s article, “The Race for Theory,” a male friend who had a different evaluation of the prkblem couldn’t help raising the possibility of whether a sort of apologetics structured my response, motivated by a desire to valorize African Ffor writing against all odds. Differences and Connections eds. In her important paper, “Dyke Methods,” Joyce Trebilcot offers a philosophical articulation of this view.

The Problem of Speaking For Others. But this development should not be taken as an absolute dis-authorization of all practices of speaking for. The source of a claim or discursive practice in suspect motives or maneuvers or in privileged social locations, I have argued, ithers it is always relevant, cannot be sufficient to repudiate it.

He lectures instead on architecture. We might try to delimit this problem as only arising when a more privileged person speaks for a less privileged one. The content of the claim, or its meaning, emerges in interaction between words and hearers within a very specific historical situation.

The remainder of this paper will try to contribute toward developing that possibility. When I speak for myself, I am constructing a possible self, a way to be in the world, and am offering that, whether I intend to or not, to others, as one possible way to be. And moreover, the better we understand the trajectories by which meanings proliferate, the more likely we can increase, though always only partially, our ability to direct the interpretations and transformations our speech undergoes. Sign in Create an account.

Linda Martin Alcoff, The problem of speaking for others – PhilPapers

Even a complete retreat from speech is of course not neutral since it allows the continued dominance of current discourses and acts by omission to reenforce their dominance. Thus, one woman’s experience of sexual assault, its effect on her and her interpretation of it, should not be taken as a universal generalization to which others must subsume or conform their experience.


It comes up in research, teaching, and activist contexts. Thus, the problem with speaking for foe exists in the very structure of discursive practice, irrespective of its content, and subverting the hierarchical rituals of speaking will always have some liberatory effects.

And this effect will continue until the U. When the president of the United States stands before the world passing judgement on a Third World government, and criticizing it on the basis of corruption and a lack of democracy, the immediate effect of this statement, as opposed to the Aalcoff, is to reenforce the prominent Anglo view that Latin American corruption is the primary cause of the region’s poverty and lack of democracy, that the U.

The answers to these questions will certainly depend on who is asking them. Elliot Yale Neaman – – Critical Review 2 Freedom, Identity, and Rights. What is at stake in rejecting or validating speaking for others as a discursive practice? The recognition that there is a problem in speaking for others has followed from the widespread acceptance of two claims. The Poetics and Politics of Ethnography ed.

This latter examination might be called a kind of genealogy. For example, in a situation where a well-meaning First world person is speaking for a person or group in the Third world, the very discursive arrangement may reinscribe the “hierarchy of civilizations” view where the U. The criterion of group identity leaves many unanswered questions for a person such as myself, since I have membership in many conflicting groups but my membership in all of them is problematic.

When meaning is plural and deferred, we can never hope to know the totality of effects. I agree with her on this point but I would emphasize also that ignoring the subaltern’s or oppressed person’s speech is, as she herself notes, “to continue the imperialist project. Since no embodied speaker can produce more than a partial account, and since the process of producing meaning is necessarily collective, everyone’s account within a specified community needs to be encouraged.

And the desire to retreat sometimes results from the soeaking to engage in political work but without practicing what might be speakingg discursive imperialism.

There is a strong, albeit contested, current within feminism which holds that speaking for otherseven for other womenis arrogant, vain, unethical, and politically illegitimate.